With Santorum Out, Philly Dodges Attack Ads, Endless Robo-Calls

Good news for voters, bad news for local TV execs.

No one was more upset about Rick Santorum suspending his campaign for the Republican nomination than the television sales executives at local TV stations. Many were already counting the Romney money expected to be spent on TV ads—money that would have assured they made their quota this year; money that would have easily earned them their bonuses. All that money disappeared in a puff of smoke when the former Pennsylvania Senator suspended his campaign.

Exactly how much money would have been spent here? The TV talking heads dubbed Pennsylvania a must-win state for Santorum and a chance for Romney to finally put away the nomination. Romney, and the Super Pac that supports him, was expected to make unprecedented TV ad buys in Philadelphia, the state’s largest media market.

For exact figures, we need only look at some of the other large, must-win swing states that Romney has carpet bombed with money to destroy rivals. Newt Gingrich was threatening to derail the Romney campaign in Florida, so Romney and his Super Pac spent more than $15 million in Miami, Tampa and Orlando on TV ad buys. The Romney campaign would have been devastated by a loss to Santorum in Romney’s home state of Michigan, so the super-rich candidate spent $8 million in Detroit and Grand Rapids. Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati TV executives saw $10 million pour into their stations to help the Romney campaign make the point that he can win in Ohio in the general election.

Pennsylvania may have seen more than that. If Santorum lost his home state, the race was over. As it turned out, the Santorum campaign saw the writing on the wall and dropped out before the embarrassment.

Pennsylvania’s primary just comes too late on the calendar to be relevant and get the benefit of the national attention and money. If President Obama wins re-election, there will contested primaries in both parties with record campaign spending in 2016. Pennsylvania should consider moving up its primary on the calendar to cash in and allow our votes to matter in four years.

Of course, there is a silver lining to all of this. We were saved a spring barrage of TV ads during our favorite television shows. We were saved from the direct political mailings, the junkiest of the junk mail, which would have clogged our mail boxes. And we were saved from the robo-calls 10 times a day in the week leading up to the April 24th primary.

We have avoided all of that for now, but it is coming. Come November, Pennsylvania, and its 20 electoral votes, is still considered one of the great prizes of the 12 swing states that will win this election. In past elections, only Florida, with 29 electoral votes, has seen more local TV buys. And since the Supreme Court released the Kraken with its Citizens United ruling that allowed unlimited campaign spending through the Super Pacs, records have been, and will continue to be, shattered on the campaign trail.

Television stations are required by law to offer candidates the lowest rate for air time. However, that same rule does not apply to Super Pacs. As much as $2 billion could be spent by the Obama and Romney campaigns on TV ad buys this fall.

The only problem for local TV executives is that the November election has already been factored into their budgets. The primary would have been a nice surprise.

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